The First Rule of Swimming, by Courtney Angela Brkic (2013)

Genre: Saga
Interest Level: Adult
First Rule of SwimmingSpoiler alert: The first rule of swimming, patriarch Luka tells his children and grandchildren, is to stay afloat. And that’s just what this Croatian family is desperately trying to do, from the days before the Second World War, through the Yugoslavian war of independence and breakup right through to nearly present day. Sisters Magdalena and Jadranka have grown up on the remote island of Rosmarina, and there Magdalena is determined to stay, even giving up a lover to do so. She is rooted to the island, disjointed and lost when she must leave it. Jadranka, on the other hand, cannot wait to leave. Like her mother, she finds the island too small and confining. An aspiring artist, Jadranka follows her muse to New York City, where she is to stay with her cousin Katarina. When after several weeks Jadranka disappears without a trace, Magdalena leaves her beloved island and her dying grandfather, and finds herself confronting her family’s secret past as she searches for her sister.
This is a brilliantly written novel by a first-time author, made available as an advance reading copy through NetGalley. The story unfolds forward and backward, revealed via several characters’ perspectives, but the narrative is carefully threaded so the flow remains natural and easy to follow. Brkic has a light touch with language – the spareness is aching at times. Just one example: When she questions the point of keeping secrets, Magdalena’s mother tells her, “Some things belong only to the people who lived them.” Ah, if only more of us lived by that rule at times.
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About Michelle Mallette
I'm just trying to keep track of the books I've read - what I liked and what isn't worth re-reading. My work as a librarian has included youth services so you'll find a wide range of interests from picture books and teen dystopia to adult sci-fi, road trip novels, and nonfiction. Comments and communication is always welcome.

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